Gospel Of The Son (B)

B. Gospel authority and reign of the rightful heir (1:5-14):

When comparing Jesus with angels, we must always remember that the Lord Jesus has “become so much better than the angels.” Angels never had a father-son relation as the Father and Son, about which the Father said, “You are My Son … I will be to Him a Father and He will be to Me a Son.” Such statements were never made to angels concerning their relationship with God.

On the contrary, angels are spirits and “His ministers” who have been sent forth for the sake of those who believe. Only this one statement is made in Scripture concerning the ministry of angels in reference to Christians. We would thus be cautious about making too many declarations concerning the ministry of angels and what they do in our lives. Nevertheless, the statement is made, and thus we assume that they are not idle bystanders in reference to their ministry for us. They will do their ministry regardless of our feeble understanding of what and how they do their ministry.

But in reference to the gospel ministry of the Son, it was as Peter announced on Pentecost, “Let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this same Jesus whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (At 2:36). Jesus now functions in a gospel ministry. He was seated at the right hand of God on the throne of authority, which throne receives authority from the throne of God in heaven. It is this authority that God has always exercised over all things. His “scepter [of a king] of righteousness, is the scepter” of the present kingdom reign of the One who was at the time the Hebrew letter was written, “both Lord and Christ.” He still is today (At 2:36).

The writer seeks to prevail upon our minds with the fact that unless we honor the present kingdom reign of King Jesus, the gospel of His reign will have little impact on our behavior. We are less motivated to be obedient subjects of the King if we believe that the King is limited in reign only to the church of obedient subjects. When we realize that Jesus “has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him,” then we too are cut to the heart (See 1 Pt 3:22). Realizing the totality of the gospel reign of Jesus humbles us into submission as loyal subjects. It brings reassurance to our souls to know that all things are under His control.

Therefore, as King, Jesus is above His companions, the angels. He has received all authority in the heavenly realm, as well as on earth (Mt 28:18). Angels have no such place of authority in the realm of heavenly things. In fact, even angels are subjects of His kingdom reign.

In the beginning when creation was first conceived in the mind of God, angels were brought into existence. We do not know if they were created before the creation of the material world, or after. We only know what Paul wrote of this matter to the Colossians: “By Him [the Son of God] all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible” (Cl 1:16). Through the Holy Spirit, Paul revealed that angels were also the result of the creative work of the Son (Cl 1:16). Angels are not incarnate beings, for they are the “invisible” of that which was created. “You, Lord [Jesus], in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth.” No angel ever had the power of Deity to lay the foundation of the world. That which was created had no power to create.

“They [the creation] will perish, but You remain [after they have long passed away] (See 2 Pt 3:10). And according to the second law of thermodynamics, that which was created will wax old. Since that which was created was so created out of that which does not exist (Hb 11:3), then all that was created is not inherently eternal. All that was brought into existence by the Lord Jesus can also be taken out of existence by the same Creator. All material things as gold will perish (1 Pt 1:7). Since we and angels were the product of creation, then neither we nor they are inherently eternal (See Mt 10:28). Our eternal existence is dependant on our being in the presence of Him who is inherently eternal.

But there are those things that are inherently eternal because He is eternal. We “were not redeemed with corruptible things … but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pt 1:18,19). “The word of the Lord endures forever” (1 Pt 1:25). These are eternal things. So Peter reminds us that “this is the word by which the gospel was preached” to us (1 Pt 1:25). As opposed to that which is solely of this world, the affect of the blood of Christ will continue into eternity. It is for this reason that through the cross, Jesus “became the author of eternal salvation to all those who obey Him” (Hb 5:9).

“You [King Jesus] are the same” in existence from the beginning of creation. It is not possible for Deity to go out of existence, or to change in nature of existence. Eternality is the definition of God, and thus there is no end of that which God is. Contrary to our need for spiritual growth, there is no need for spiritual growth in reference to the nature of God. Holiness is the nature of His being. He is the spiritual goal to which we strive to grow. “As He who has called you is holy, so you be holy in all manner of behavior” (1 Pt 1:15).

Change in reference to the nature of God would be a logical contradiction concerning His very existence. God is not subservient to the constant changes of man. If there were changes in the nature and character of God, then we would know that we have created a god after our own imagination, for He would be a god who changes. But God is unchangeable, as well as His counsel (See Hb 6:17,18).

We are not puzzled with the Holy Spirit’s statement in Philippians 2:6,7:

“Being in the form of God, [the Son of God] did not consider it robbery to be equal with God. But He made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant and being made in the likeness of men.”

We find no passage in the entire New Testament that states that this voluntary incarnation on the part of the Son of God was reversed. Since He transformed from flesh and blood before the burial, to flesh and bone after the resurrection, we stand with the disciples who witnessed His bodily ascension (At 1:9). If we are alive when He comes again, “we will see Him as He is” (1 Jn 3:2). We can only assume that as He was when the disciples witnessed His body in His ascension, so He will be when He comes again. Therefore, we are not of those about whom John wrote:

“For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess that Jesus Christ is coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 Jn 7).

Nevertheless, we say these things in view of what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:16: “Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no more.” We assume that Paul’s use of the word “flesh” is in reference to the incarnation. If so, then in some way the incarnate Son is no longer in the flesh as He functions as our King and Priest. He would thus be in some spirit form, though His equality with the Father and Spirit was given up in the incarnation. This relationship with the Father seems to have been an eternal subjugation on the part of the Son. This relationship seems to be revealed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:3: “The head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God.”

Are these things too difficult to understand by those who are presently in the flesh? Certainly! Nevertheless, we must understand these statements exactly as they read in our text. This is in view of the fact that there are no statements of Scripture that affirm that the incarnate Son will ever return to being equal with God, though He never gave up His divinity. For God to give up divinity is an impossibility.

We would assume that the Son will not for the sake of what the Hebrew writer will later reveal in the following chapter. Of course, our lack of revelation on this matter leaves room for our personal assumptions. Nevertheless, we must remain with what has been revealed without frustrating ourselves with present and future realities in the spiritual realm of which we have little revelation (See Dt 29:29).

His love for us beyond angels is tremendously exemplified if there is anything near the notion of an incarnation of the Son of God that will exist beyond the time when we see Him as He is in His final coming (1 Jn 3:2). His sacrifice was far beyond the suffering of His earthly existence, including the agony of the cross. His incarnational sacrifice was forever. If we would exalt angels to be in status as the incarnate Son of God, then we have denied the gospel of the incarnation.

No angels, therefore, could ever have the following declaration made to them: “Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies Your footstool.” Only our Lord Jesus had enemies, and thus only He heard these words from the Father. Angels have no earthly enemies. This statement, therefore, could never have been made to them. Angels are only “ministering spirits sent forth to minister to those who will inherit salvation.” Any theology, therefore, that would exalt angels above Jesus, or even equate angels with Jesus, is a denial of the gospel.

Our understanding of the gospel must begin with the incarnation of the Word into the flesh of man. His eternality was temporarily suspended while He was in the flesh of man. As God, He could not be terminated, though His flesh as a man could. Nevertheless, as we will be in our heavenly body that is yet to come, so also will the resurrected Jesus in His resurrected body when He comes again (See 1 Co 15:12-58; 1 Jn 3:2). Through the power of the resurrection, He was proved to be the Son of God with power (Rm 1:4). The power that raised Him from the dead is the same power that works today in the transformation of our lives.

Any efforts to equate Jesus with angels is an attack against the resurrection of the body of Jesus. Angels were never incarnate into the flesh of man in a way that they could be rejuvenated through resurrection into a body of flesh and bones in which they would dwell with us throughout eternity. God indeed allowed angels to appear before men throughout history. But we must not believe that they were incarnate into flesh and blood as Jesus at the time of His incarnation. If they had, then such would have been an attack against the unique gospel incarnation of Jesus that both John and Paul revealed (See Jn 1:1,2,14; Ph 2:5-8).

[Next in series: February 13]

Gospel Of The Son (A)

All the revelation from God, both written and real, is about bringing all those who have faith in Him into eternal dwelling with Him. This eternal plan of redemption is focused on what God planned to do before the creation in order to introduce into this world the incarnation of Himself for the purpose of taking all believers out of this world.

Deliverance from this world is good news to all of us who all our lives have realized that this life cannot be all there is. God knew that reasonable people would come to this conclusion. So from the very beginning when mankind was created through Adam and Eve, sincere people realized that it is not possible to live without sin against God. With the creation of mankind, therefore, there was need for a divine plan of forgiveness for sin that would eventually be introduced into this world. So the promise of a Seed of deliverance was made (Gn 3:15). In view of the Seed to come, those who put their faith in God waited for the mystery that God would eventually reveal (Gn 3:15).

The promise of the Seed of woman continued throughout history from the time when Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden until the last century B.C. The fulfillment of the seedline promise was eventually announced with a cry from a babe in a manger in Bethlehem. The good news (gospel) of the incarnate Son of God was finally activated, for the time had been fulfilled (See Lk 2:8-20). Anno domini (A.D.) became a paradigm shift in history.

“When the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under law, in order to redeem those who were under law, so that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gl 4:4,5).

A. Gospel revelation through the Son (1:1-4):

From the beginning of time, and until the revelation of the Word into the flesh of a babe in Bethlehem, God worked for millennia to prepare the world for the arrival of the One who would redeem souls out of the world. In preparation for the arrival of the incarnate Seed, God, through chosen prophets, laid the foundation of faith for the incarnational birth. He did so through dreams, visions, historical events, and the preaching of the message of His Seed through His chosen people Israel.

When Israel was near unto completing her purpose for existence as a nation, God’s final message to the world was through the incarnate Son of God. So “in the beginning [of the world], was the Word [God the Son], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God [divine/deity]” (Jn 1:1). “All things were made by Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (Jn 1:3).

“He [the Father] has appointed [His Son] heir of all things.” The reason the Son of God was the heir of all things was logically based on the fact that all things were created by Him (Cl 1:16). And thus, it was only right that all authority over all things eventually be given to the Son. It was also logical that He would be given the right to reign over all things (Mt 28:18; Ep 1:21-23; Ph 2:9-11). Since the Son was the origin of all things, then it was only reasonable to conclude that all things should be brought under His control when He ascended on high.

Through the incarnation of the Word (Jn 1:14), the brilliant identity (glory) of God was revealed to mankind (2 Co 4:4). The Son was “the exact image of His nature,” in that Jesus reflected the spiritual nature of the Father. Since God is love (1 Jn 4:8), then it was necessary that the love of God through the sacrificial offering of the incarnate God be revealed to man in the form of man. To accomplish this objective, the Son of God, “being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God” (Ph 2:6). Therefore, “He made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant and being made in the likeness of men” (Ph 2:7). Subsequently, “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14).

The revelation of the incarnate Word was the “exact image of His [God’s] nature” of love, for God so loved His creation that He was willing to come in the flesh of man in order to bring a resurrected people of faith into His company forever (Jn 3:16).

From the beginning, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have upheld “all things by the word of His power.” As the Creator, the Son did not create that which would be out of control, or digress into chaos. We must never conclude, therefore, that a chaotic world was created, nor that this world was left to itself to imploded into nonexistence. The world will not be destroyed by any natural catastrophe, or cosmic collision of the heavenly bodies. It will be terminated only when the eternal God determines that it has fulfilled its purpose for its existence (See 2 Pt 3:10-13). Once this world ceases to produce citizens for heaven, then we assume that it will be terminated, for it will have at the time of termination concluded the purpose for which it was created.

The guarantee of our hope is the good news that the resurrected and ascended Word is King of the universe, and thus, all termination of this world is under His control. The present function of His kingdom reign is over all creation. We must view the reign of King Jesus to be far beyond the church of His obedient subjects. If we do not, then these statements of the Hebrew writer make no sense. These statements are not about church (us), but about the totalitarian control of the Son of God over all things. The fact that the universe is not out of control is evidence that His reign is over all that which must be controlled.

When the King has finished the purpose for the creation of both His spiritual and physical kingdom realm, it is then, and only then, that the King will terminate the existing habitat of His reign. It will be then that the prophecy of Paul will become the new reality:

“And when all things are subjected to Him, then will the Son also Himself be subject to Him who put all things under Him, so that God may be all in all” (1 Co 15:28).

But before this finality of world events, the King must accomplish a gospel mission in order to populate His new habitat to come. The gospel mission of the Son was not only to purify us of sin, but also to sit “down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” in order to reign over His present habitat. It was on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 when the first announcement was made of this galactic gospel reign of King Jesus. And when the multitudes who were present on that memorial day heard this, “they were cut to the heart” (At 2:37). It was the gospel of the kingdom reign of the resurrected Jesus that motivated the people to plead for instructions as to how they should submit to the reigning King Jesus. The answer to their pleas was simple: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ” (At 2:38).

The incarnate Word, the Son of God, was the gospel revelation of God’s love for us. It was in His eternal redemptive plan that He became an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Once this mission was accomplished, He was resurrected, and subsequently ascended to the heavenly throne room with authority over all things. “He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” in order to function as our King and high priest.

Because of who the incarnate Word is, and what He did for the redemption of those for whom He offered Himself on the cross, He is now “so much better than the angels.” And because of who, what and where He now is, “He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.”

There are those today who view Jesus as simply a good teacher of the Jews. There are those who have exalted Him only to the status of “prophet.” In the historical context of the audience to whom these words were addressed, it seems that some had moved Jesus into being just another angel of God.

But unless we move beyond Jesus as just a man, and beyond the misconception of Him being just another angel, we will never come to a full realization of who He now is as King of kings over all things (1 Tm 6:15). If our understanding of Jesus can never get beyond His presence with His disciples on the roads of Palestine, we will always have a limited understanding of the power of the gospel. We will know Him only according to the flesh (2 Co 5:16). Now that He as ascended to the right hand of God, if we continue to limit His present kingdom reign we will suck all the power out of the effect of His gospel reign on our hearts.

And herein is the theme the Hebrew writer seeks to promote throughout the remainder of his defense of the gospel. It was the reigning King Jesus who cut people to the heart on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. It is that same power of His present kingdom reign that will cut people to the heart today. This is the continuing power of the gospel in the lives of those who have obeyed the gospel.

Angels announced the arrival of the One who would be the Savior of the World (Lk 2:8-12). But the atoning sacrifice and eternal priesthood of the incarnate and ascended Son of God goes far belonged Jesus in the flesh. Angels were not offered for the sins of the world. Neither has any angel ascended on high. This work and reign belong only to the Christ whom we no longer know according to the flesh.

We may conceive in our own minds the wandering Rabbi Jesus among the Jews two thousands years ago who taught in the synagogues. We may even exalt Him, as the Samaritan women, to being a prophet (Jn 4:19). And then we may elevate Him to being the Messiah in fulfillment of all prophecies concerning the Messiah (Lk 24:47). Jesus was all these things. However, unless we can move our concept of Jesus into being the incarnate and ascended Son of God who now upholds all things by the word of His kingdom power, His power of the gospel will have only a limited affect on our lives. The less we now consider the power that Jesus exercises as our King, the less power His gospel has on our lives.

[Next in series: February 11]

introduction to hebrews (4)

D. The majority rejection:

Hebrews is an apologetic of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. All that the incarnate Word was before and after His ascension is defended vigorously throughout the epistle. By the time the writer comes to the end of his arguments, there should be no question concerning the gospel function of the present reigning King Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, most Jews at the time the letter was written rejected the arguments of the document. They still do today. It is for this reason that any doctrine that focuses on the restoration of Jews to Israel in the future in order to be established as a nation is devoid of truth. The Jews’ continued rejection of Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah of Israel disqualified them in the first century as the people of God. It still does today. Here is the point: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek [in Christ Jesus]” (Gl 3:27:28). In the eyes of God, national Israel lost her identity when Jesus fulfilled all the prophecies concerning the Messiah. National Israel was only God’s ethnic vehicle to bring all men to Christ. “But now that faith [in Jesus] has come, we are no longer under a headmaster” (Gl 3:25).

There is no Jewish nationalism in Christ. Those Jews who are baptized into Christ can remain Jews by race. However, in the eyes of God, both Jews and Gentiles are one man in Christ (Gl 3:28).

The apostasy that the Hebrew writer addressed was the rejection of Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God. Those who were going into apostasy were actually rejecting the gospel of God’s grace through His only begotten Son.

E. Salvation only in Christ:

The arguments in Hebrews for the Messiahship of Jesus were valid when the letter was first written. They are still valid today. There is absolutely no salvation outside Christ, for only in Christ is there contact with the blood of Jesus. What Peter said two thousand years ago is still true today: “There is salvation in no other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (At 4:12). Nothing has changed in this statement. This is the premise upon which the document of Hebrews was written. It is a document that affirms the gospel of Jesus’ present reign as King, and His present function as our high priest.

In our relationship with the Jesus who is identified by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Hebrews takes our minds beyond the earthly Jesus and His ministry. Paul explained this transition of our understanding of Jesus into heaven in 2 Corinthians 5:16: “Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh [through Matthew, Mark, Luke and John], yet now we know Him no more.”

Since the writing of the document of Hebrews, it is by this revelation that we now know Christ. Our knowledge of Jesus according to flesh was terminated when the disciples saw His body of flesh and bones ascend into heaven (At 1:9). Hebrews takes our knowledge of Jesus on from the ascension into heaven. Therefore, all who would seek a relationship with Jesus today, must define this relationship by their understanding of Jesus through Hebrews.

Some people in their efforts to relate with Jesus limit their relationship by failing to go beyond Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. If one would, as Paul, know Jesus as He now reigns, then their relationship must be based on what we read in the document of Hebrews, which is truly, the continuation of the gospel according to Hebrews. We believe that the Holy Spirit has this in mind as He directs the hand of the holy scribe who wrote this apology of the present ministry of the resurrected and ascended Son of God. We must, therefore, follow the Spirit’s leading as He seeks to define for us the Christ who is now Lord God Almighty over all things (See Is 9:6).

[Next in series: Hebrew 1, February 9]

introduction to hebrews (3)

C. Looming doom:

As we approach this most valuable document in reference to the gospel of the Son of God, a national catastrophe was soon to face the Jews in the near future. We must understand that the prophecy of Jesus concerning the destruction of national Israel was approaching at the time the Hebrew letter was written (Mt 24).

Rome had determined to deal with the “Jewish problem” by subjugating the Jews, even to the point of destroying Jerusalem. And such they eventually did in A.D. 70. But in the few years leading up to this finality in A.D. 70, any Jew who was living in the region of Palestine was greatly intimidated to join the ranks of the Jewish resistance against Rome.

Jewish Christians who were addressed in this letter had been Christians for many years. At the time the letter was written, however, something was bearing on their emotions to the point that they were intimidated to forsake the gospel in order to return to the religion of Judaism. We do not know all the particulars concerning what was causing their imminent apostasy, but one point is certainly clear. There was great social intimidation that moved them to forsake the gospel of Jesus Christ and return to a system of religion that promoted self-sanctification through an earthly priesthood and the blood of animals.

The recipients of the letter were returning to a system of religion from which they had turned many years before in their obedience to the gospel. The political, social and religious environment in which they lived was evidently so strong that they were willing to sacrifice the love of God through Jesus for the cold formalism of Jewish religion. Therefore, we must never underestimate the appeal that self-righteous legal religion has on the souls of men.

At the time of writing, the gospel that was preached to the Jews was in the balance. If the readers’ apostasy to Judaism prevailed among the Jewish Christians who were addressed by the Hebrew document, then Christianity would have been greatly attacked at the very roots of its origins. And if this apostasy prevailed, then many in the world of the Gentiles would consider Christianity to be just another sect of Judaism, a sect that was finally brought back under the control of the religious establishment in Jerusalem.

If the Jewish Christians to whom the Hebrew writer addressed this gospel apologetic accomplished their journey back to Judaism, then the entire Christian Gentile world would question their base in the fulfillment of the prophecies of Jesus as the Messiah and final King of Israel. If He were not the Messiah of Israel, then their faith was vain; they too were yet in their sins. As the Jews, they too would have been subjected to wait again for the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Redeemer.

If all the Messianic prophecies were not fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, then the Jews had to wait for another Messiah. For such the majority of Jews throughout the world have waited since the Hebrew document was first penned. In some way, the Hebrew writer did not accomplish his goal in the letter, for most Jews in the first century did not accept Jesus as the Messiah. Nor do they today accept Him as the fulfillment of all Messianic prophecies concerning His present kingship and priesthood. Their rejection of Him then and now reveals their rejection of the gospel.

[Next in series: February 7]

introduction to hebrews (2)

B. Religious self-satisfaction:

As all other religions throughout the world, the satisfaction that Judaism brought to the individual was based on the performance of the individual in reference to his obedience to religious rites and rituals. Faith could be based on one’s performance of all the religious rites and rituals that were a part of the religious conglomeration of Judaism. Judaism, therefore, was a religion of self-righteousness. It was a cultic “spiritual narcissism.”

In such a system of religion there is a sense of self-satisfaction because of one’s performance of the religion. Paul later confessed his former attitude in Judaism when he wrote to the Philippians: “Concerning the righteousness that is in law, [I was] blameless” (Ph 3:6). He had formerly boasted that he “advanced in Judaism” (Gl 1:14).

Judaism was subsequently a system of religion that allowed the participants to compete with one another in reference to who was the most righteous by keeping the most rules and works of sanctification. It was a self-fulfilling religion in that it focused the individual on his or her performance. Because it was such a religion, there was a sense of pride in one’s own religiosity. And because there was pride, there was a sense of self-assurance in one’s good deeds.

Herein was the fatal flaw of Judaism, and all similar religions. If one could boast in his own works of righteousness, then there was no need for faith (trust) in God for one’s salvation. In all performance-oriented religions, one believes that his own works of righteous deeds put God in debt to save one eternally. Since many believe that this presumption is supposedly true, then one can boast in his own performance of law and good works. One feels that he can eventually stand in judgment with a sense of accomplishment in good works

Inherent in such systems of religion is competition and intimidation, particularly intimidation. Nicodemus came to Jesus at night because he was intimidated (Jn 3:1,2). Peter withdrew from the Gentiles in Antioch because he was not living straightforward according to the gospel, but momentarily slipped back into his own Jewish religiosity wherein he was intimidated by those Jews who came up from Jerusalem (Gl 2:11-13). It was this system of intimidation that kept everyone in line with the religious customs of the Jews.

It was this same intimidation that evidently faced some Jewish Christians to whom the Hebrew letter was addressed. They were in the process of bowing to intimidation, and thus turning away from the gospel of King Jesus to the bondage of their former Judaism. If the apostle Peter and Jewish Christians in Antioch were intimidated by the Jewishness of the times, then what would happen if Jewish Christians in great numbers in the first century would also succumb to the same intimidation (See Gl 2:11-13)? The Hebrew writer inscribed this gospel defense in order to turn a great number of Jewish Christians from forsaking the gospel in order to return to Judaism.

[Next in series: February 5]

Introduction to hebrews (1)

We give credit to the apostle Paul as the choice of the Holy Spirit to inscribe the words of the Hebrew epistle. Because of his religious background, and ministry to the Gentiles, we conclude that the Spirit could have made no better choice. Paul, formerly Saul, was well seasoned in the religion of the Jews. He would eventually write the following statement in another epistle that was inscribed before the one at hand: “I advanced in Judaism above many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions” (Gl 1:14).

Though a graduate with high honors from the school of the Pharisees, Paul experienced the frustrations of the Jewish religious heritage that had been handed to him by his forefathers and was taught to him by his professors. He eventually came to realize “that a man is not justified by works of law, but by the faith of Christ Jesus [who gave Himself for our justification]” (Gl 2:16). Paul realized that there was no power in the self-sanctifying works of a self-proclaimed righteousness that was inherent in the religion that came from his Jewish forefathers (See Rm 10:1-3). He, and thousands of other Jews like him at the time, believed in King Jesus in order that they might receive the justification that comes only through the incarnational blood of the Son of God.

A. The fifth defense of the gospel:

Before the document of Hebrews was written, two epistles had been added to the canon of Scriptures through the pen of Paul that dealt with the foundation upon which Hebrews was written. Both Romans and Galatians set forth arguments that were not only given by the inspiration of the Spirit, but were simply logical deductions of honest believers. Paul persuasively argued in these two letters that it is simply not possible for any man to live without sin in reference to any law, whether from God or man. This fact is axiomatic. It is axiomatic because its truth is self-evident. We are human, and because we are human, and weak, we cannot keep any law perfectly.

However, the religion of Judaism sought to make it so, that is, justification through perfect law-keeping. In order to accomplish this humanly impossible feat, the religious leaders of Judaism throughout the centuries were obsessed with adding legal guards around those laws that they deemed essential in order to be a faithful Jew. For example, they surrounded the Sabbath with a host of trivial rules that one must keep in order to guarantee that he or she did not break the Sabbath. In their thinking, if one kept the trivial laws, he would be guaranteed not to sin against the primary commandment of the Sabbath law. One could stumble in reference to violating the surrounding trivial rules in reference to the Sabbath, but would still be perfect in reference to the Sabbath. Unfortunately, the trivial laws (traditions) became as important as the original Sabbath law (See Mk 7:1-9).

If there were any infractions of one’s efforts to keep any ritual of Judaism, then the religious leaders embedded within their theology a system of self-sanctification. They believed that they could supposedly cleanse themselves when they were stained with sin against their added rites and rituals. The subsequent system of self-sanctification led to a religion of self-righteousness (Rm 10:1-3).

[Next in series: February 3]

The Right Call (B)

B. Preaching the resurrected and reigning Lord Christ:

We must remember that in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost, that which cut the people to the heart was the gospel message of the resurrected and reigning King. “This Jesus God has raised up” (At 2:32). “Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this same Jesus whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (At 2:36). This message keeps the chicken before the egg.

After the resurrection of Jesus, Jesus was no longer just the good Teacher from Nazareth. He was no longer just Jesus who walked with the disciples on the roads of Galilee. He was no longer just the brave Teacher who stood up and taught in the temple and the synagogues. He was now the resurrected, raised and reigning King Jesus at the right hand of God (Hb 8:1). This was the gospel message that cut the people to the heart on the day of Pentecost (At 2:37). This was the message that turned the world upside down. It will do the same today if we once again restore gospel preachers among us.

We seem to miss this point, even today among those who only want to know Jesus simply as the good teacher with His disciples on the road to and from Galilee. Such is brought out in the request of many who seek a more “personal relationship with Jesus,” which often translates into a “mere” relationship. At least it gives the appearance that if one behaves correctly he or she can have and maintain a “personal relationship” with Jesus. But this often becomes religious behavior because it is based on self-appointed merits by which one seeks the personal relationship.

One often concludes that if his or her relationship is to be “personal,” then one must bind on oneself “personal works” to perform in order to “measure up” to what he or she thinks Jesus would expect of us. When one fails in his or her own self-imposed standards of expectation, then he or she feels emotionally unworthy. This is performance-oriented religion. It leads to a lack of confidence in the sanctifying power of the blood of Jesus because our confidence is focused on our own self-imposed performance.

It is certainly a noble desire to feel close to Jesus. But our meritorious behavior is somewhat misguided if we seek such a relationship that is based on our own performance of self-imposed laws. It is somewhat misguided because the object of our relationship is no longer the man Jesus whom we seek to know according to the flesh in the records of the gospel. The man Jesus is now King and Lord over all things.

Paul certainly knew Jesus as a man while Jesus was in the flesh, for he lived in Palestine during the ministry of Jesus. He even persecuted those who followed the Nazarene called Jesus. He persecuted these followers even unto death because he believed that Jesus was only a rebellious leader of a sect of Nazarenes.

But Paul’s understanding of Jesus changed from Jesus the man to Jesus the resurrected and reigning Son of God. After the gospel of the ascension of Jesus, he once wrote the following words to some who possibly considered Jesus as only a renown teacher from of Galilee:

“Therefore, from now on we know no man according to the flesh [including Jesus]. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no more” (2 Co 5:16).

If we are preaching that people must have a personal relationship with Jesus according to the flesh, then we are not preaching the gospel message that we must establish a gospel covenant relationship of peace with King Jesus. We are preaching an earthly message because we are seeking to attach people to a concept of Jesus while He was yet in the flesh. But now we do not know Him as such.

What the people understood from the message of Peter on Pentecost was that it was no longer Jesus according to the flesh. It was the resurrected Jesus who was reigning as Lord and Christ. And being at the right hand of God and reigning on David’s throne meant that the resurrected Jesus is now King and Lord over all things (See Mt 28:18; Ep 1:21-23). He is now as Isaiah prophesied of Him:

“For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given. And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Is 9:6).

Church existed in the first century because people believed in the gospel message of the reigning King Jesus. If we would speak of personal relationships with this King, therefore, we must seek out how we would establish a covenant relationship with King Jesus who is now reigning over all things. He is now Lord and King! He is the One before whom all of us will eventually give account.

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that everyone may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Co 5:10; see Jn 12:48).

Jesus is now the King about whom He spoke when He taught His disciples. He is the King with whom each one of us must make peace before He comes again with His mighty angels (Lk 14:32; see 2 Th 1:6-9). Whatever relationship one might seek to establish with this coming King, it must be a relationship of reverence, awe and submission. We must establish a covenant with this King before He comes. In order to do this, we must obey the gospel of King Jesus in order to come into the realm of His grace (Gl 3:26-29). This is what those who were cut to the heart on the day of Pentecost realized, and thus were willing to do what Peter instructed: “Repent and be baptized every one of you” (At 2:38).

  1. Preach Christ: We preach Jesus the Christ and King. This was the message of the early disciples. Some have had difficulty understanding Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 1:17 when he referred to this message: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” Those who are of a legal heritage have reversed the order. They would conclude from their catechism of identity that evangelists must first be sent to be legally baptized, and then the baptized believer must be discipled in matters of knowing the Christ. This is revealed by those who preach church in meetings without mentioning Christ.

This is the reverse order of what Peter preached on Pentecost. It was the reverse order of all the evangelists who obeyed the commission to go into all the world and preach the gospel. It was the reverse order of what Paul preached in Corinth upon his initial arrival in the city. He later wrote to the Corinthians, and all those in the province of Achaia, “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received” (1 Co 15:3). And that which he received was a risen Christ who died for our sins and was resurrected to reign as King of kings (1 Co 15:3,4). This is the gospel message that we must first preach as we go into all the world.

When Philip encountered the eunuch on his way back home to Ethiopia, he preached “Jesus” to him (At 8:35). It was only later, and after hearing this gospel message, that the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What hinders me from being baptized” (At 8:36). And herein is the difference between preaching a legal catechism of restoration, and the gospel of the incarnate Son of God who lived on earth under the name of Jesus. This Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected, and is now reigning as the King who will come again. It is, therefore, as Paul wrote, “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Co 1:23).

Our message to draw people to the cross is the good news of the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, reign and final revelation of King Jesus from heaven. It is this message that cuts people to the heart. It is this message to which people gravitate away from institutional religiosity to a relationship with the One who is now reigning over all things. This is the power of the gospel to change the lives of those who realize that they will eventually give account of themselves before a returned King (Jn 12:48; At 17:30,31). This is the right and only mediator through whom we must call all men in order to reconnect with the God who is over all things.

[End of series.]

The Right Call (A)

The problem that eventually leads to a decline in any movement, whether restorational or ecumenical, would be the original call upon which the movement was initially based. Legal restorationists often make a call for restoration that is based on what we would consider a catechism of law. This is done in order to establish a legal identity for those who seek to be identified with the movement. Those who identify with the catechism are allowed to be in fellowship with the movement. Those who find flaws in the catechism are considered to have left the movement.

The nature with this system of identity is that we become serious students of law, but often overlook the cause as to why the early church came into existence. In our call for legal restoration, therefore, we often marginalize Christ by seeking to restore the law of the “New Testament church.” We do so by seeking to identify legally the church in the New Testament. Our favorite books become Acts and the epistles, and not Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, with the coronation of the Lord Jesus Christ in Revelation. The primary subject of our sermons is based on law, not the Lord Jesus Christ. We often become judges of one another in order to make sure that each one of us conforms to the catechism that identifies who we are. We are thus intimidated to conform to catechisms of law, rather than live the gospel which we have obeyed. But if our obedience was not initially in obedience to the gospel of Christ, but to law, then we easily carry on with law keeping without focusing on Christ.

However, when we follow the message of the early disciples, we discover something that is quite different than what is often preached today among those who seem to believe that they have a copyright on restoration. We are encouraged, therefore, to take another look at the message that was preached among Jews and Greeks in the first century. The result of the message was so phenomenal that it was proclaimed that the Christians had turned the world upside down (At 17:6).

A. Preach the gospel:

Remember when Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15)? The message of the early evangelists was the gospel, not the “law of the church.” Their message to those who obeyed the gospel led to a transformed life. They were transformed in response to the gospel reign of our Lord Jesus Christ (Rm 12:1,2; Cl 3:1,2).

The gospel was not a catechism to identify the church. It was a message that had the power to save and change lives. The church of the saved was the result. The gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ was the cause. Church was the body of individuals who were saved and transformed.

Unfortunately, we have often reversed the focus of the early disciple. We make the identity of the “church” the message, and the gospel of Christ an afterthought. In fulfilling the great commission of Jesus, we have been guilty of going into all the world and preaching church first.

In preaching “church” as our central message to the religious world, not only is our message often sterile of the gospel of God’s love through Jesus, it is also a simple appeal to “join the church of our choice.” So in order that the preacher seemingly guarantees the “right choice,” prooftext upon prooftext—precept, upon precept (Is 28:10)—are accumulated under each point of a multiple-point outline in order to identity the right church. The preacher thus proves that he is a messenger of a legally-defined New Testament church, and not a preacher of the gospel. He is getting the egg before the chicken, forgetting that the gospel produces the body, the body (church) does not produce the Christ.

[Next in series: January 25]

The Wrong Call (F)

F. Gospel foundation only:

Our quest for unity must not be based on catechisms, but on the gospel of Christ. If we call for a restoration of a correct catechism, then we often bind on ourselves the task of choosing a supposedly correct catechism upon which we must all agree, which catechsim will supposedly bring us all together in unity. And in order to establish the correct catechism, we must bind on ourselves a hermeneutic by which we will all understand the Bible alike, and subsequently, come to some common conclusions. These are legal restorations that usually produce division because they are not based primarily on the gospel.

Inevitably, our hermeneutic of legal restoration of necessity involves deductive conclusions, and inherent in deductive conclusions is division. Deductive conclusions are subject to the minds of men, and thus, we are often left to the mercy of those among us whom we consider to be our scholars to make the correct deductions. We subsequently submit ourselves to a hierarchy of authorities who only have the right to hand down interpretative dictates to the laity.

God did not clone our minds to come to the same conclusions through a deductive system of reasoning. Our hermeneutic of “deductivism,” therefore, is inherently flawed with human reasoning. And since we are independent in our thinking, our deductive process of reasoning often leads us to different conclusions. We subsequently become different sects if we seek to bind our conclusions on one another as the catechism of “our church.”

However, there is hope in all sectarianism. There is hope if we once again refocus on the gospel as the foundation for unity. There are no deductive conclusions to be made about the gospel. What is revealed as gospel in the New Testament is stated in clear statements and historical events. No interpretation is needed. If we all refocus on the foundation of the gospel, then we may not at the beginning originate from the same sect. Nevertheless, if we persistently focus on the gospel of Jesus, we will eventually end up together on the same path.

The path of almost everyone originates out of some past religious heritage. But if we continue to focus on the gospel, our paths will inevitably converge, regardless of our religious origins. It is simply the beauty of the gospel to produce that which we all crave, that is, brotherhood in Christ.

We must be warned, however, that as restoration movements age, they inherently become the heritage of the people. And when the deductive conclusions of the movement become a part of the heritage, then they become the authority of the heritage. We have thus doomed ourselves to eventually decline in numbers as new generations arise who are not attached to the heritage of the fathers. As such is now happening in the American religious scene, unfortunately those who are trapped within what are now heritage movements have a difficult time understanding the reason for their decline. Their catechism of doctrine seems to be failing, and because the heritage is identified by a legal catechism, to some it is quite disconcerting to witness the decline of their religious heritage. They simply do not understand. But as Paul wrote to the Corinthians—we use his statement somewhat out of context—we would say, “And yet I show to you a more excellent way” (1 Co 14:31).

[Next in series: January 23]

The Wrong Call (E)

E. Unity efforts:

In such a scenario of embedded division, sectarian groups will inevitable arise. In order to establish some harmony among those who were inherently divided because of the way in which they have understood the Bible, a superficial unity is often established between those who discover that they must come to some common deductive conclusions.

In such cases, differences are often debated among the sects of misguided restorations. But for the sake of not having “division in the church,” agreements are made upon which a great number of the dissidents can come to a common understanding on what is binding and what is a matter of opinion. These are often legal matters of agreement that subsequently become the identifying characteristics of the movement, or those who would be identified as a part of the restoration movement for unity.

It is at this point that the movement as a whole becomes sectarian, and thus is separated from all others who have followed the same system to determine their own behavior and theology in seeking to be the church of the first century. Unfortunately, the restoration movements that were initially started to produce unity, inadvertently encouraged the adherents to circle around and become that from which they fled.

Ecumenical movements are somewhat different. They are efforts to restore unity among different existing religious groups. Because these movements are efforts to produce some semblance of unity in a community of sectarianism, the adherents to such efforts must first realize that all ecumenical movements are orchestrated by men who come together in order to speak in peace with one another. Unfortunately, in order for religious leaders to speak peace in the same room through theological compromises, or at least theological temperance, the authority of the Scriptures is often set aside. Simply because there is an effort to be together for the sake of peace among different religious groups does not mean that we should leave our Bibles at home. True unity must be based on something greater than our forbearance of one another’s theology.

We have, fortunately, witnessed some ecumenical efforts on the part of many religious leaders who want to lay aside their theological deductions in order to unite on the gospel alone. There is some hope for these movements. In one such meeting where we were invited to speak with the leaders of such a movement, the question was asked by one of the leaders, “How can we be united when we all believe so many different doctrines?” Our response was, “When we understand the gospel correctly, and agree to be united on the foundation of the gospel, then many of the theological differences simply fade away and are not important points over which we should argue, and thus stay away from one another.”

We are in contact with hundreds, if not thousands of church leaders who have grown weary of division over senseless issues. These leaders seek unity that is based on the gospel more than the preservation of their religious heritage, or the uniqueness of their particular group. Theirs is a thirst to respond to the gospel alone.

Admittedly, these are independent churches who have already released themselves from the shackles of traditional religions. They have left the sectarianism of traditional religion, but in their “restoration,” they have become sectarian among themselves because their initial move was not based solely on the gospel. Nevertheless, these independent church leaders realize where they are. In the midst of so much evil in their communities, they have come to the conclusion that in some way they must work together. They now seek to work together in their communities in order to be united on the foundation of the gospel. We would write and confess that this is indeed an exhilarating time in history where such restorations to the gospel are taking place.

[Next in series: January 21]